First the good news for Russia:
Thanks to Russia’s vast natural resources, the Russian government has managed to punch well above its weight class when it comes to out-of-country military adventurism and in-country weapons systems development.
In its “near abroad,” Russia wields a wider array of tools. It bolsters friendly regimes, particularly autocratic ones; supports friendly groups, particularly the ethnic Russians that spread across the former Russian and Soviet empires; and uses economic dependence to bend nearby nations to its will.
Russia has some leverage over Western Europe because it is a major supplier of energy, especially natural gas. But the focus of its efforts to weaken the United States and the European democracies lifts a method directly from the old Soviet playbook: reinforcing anything that weakens and distracts Western nations, particularly the strong ones that might resist or pressure Russia. __ Short Skinny Brute
Indeed, because of the Kremlin’s increased overseas and cross-border activities, it has become fashionable to talk about “Russia’s New Global Agenda“.
For the time being, Russia can behave like a superpower, without actually being one.
The Bad News: Everything Has a Price
While Russia has vast resources of oil & gas, and many other natural riches, its overall GDP ranks down near those of Australia, Canada, and Spain. Russia’s government can certainly spend money on foreign adventures and beefed-up weapons systems — as if it were an actual superpower. But the rest of Russia’s economy — and most of Russia’s people — must pay a steep price for the Kremlin’s choices of asset allocation. (Russian language links below)
Bad News About State of Economy
The Russian economy is now so unstable, experts say, that almost anyone could lose his or her job at any time (newsland.com/community/4788/content/struktura-bezrabotitsy-v-rossii-pri-putine/6110759).
Russia’s reserve fund will be empty by the end of December, officials say (lenta.ru/news/2017/12/07/reserves/); and the ruble may collapse according to some Russian analysts and George Soros (ura.news/articles/1036273203 and newsland.com/community/7552/content/prognoz-sorosa-do-bankrotstva-rossii-ostalos-24-dnia/6111647). __ Window on Eurasia
Russia’s military adventures and weapons build-up have been built on the backs of the Russian people.
Bad News About State of Public Health:
Communicable Diseases Rising Across the Board. The number of Russians suffering from hepatitis A is up 47 percent this year, the number suffering from typhus up 220 percent, and officials are predicting epidemics of tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5A28F107782D0 and versia.ru/korrupciya-v-minzdrave-porozhdaet-yepidemiyu-tuberkulyoza-iz-za-otkaza-ot-mantu-v-polzu-diaskintesta). Unfortunately, public ignorance about health issues is making the situation even worse: a quarter of all Russians think that HIV/AIDS comes most often from mosquito bites and slightly more think that praying will cure it (belsat.eu/ru/programs/27-rossiyan-sdali-analiz-na-vich-duhovnost-ne-pomogaet/ and thinktanks.by/publication/2017/12/05/opros-23-belorusov-i-rossiyan-opasayutsya-zarazitsya-spmdom-ot-komarov.html).
Some Russian commentators are suggesting that the projected decline in the number of Russians, driven by high rates of illness, lack of access to medical care, and both pollution and alcohol consumption, may not be an entirely bad thing because in their view Russia doesn’t need as many people as it has (gorod-812.ru/naselenie-rossii-budet-sokrashhatsya-no-tak-li-uzh-eto-ploho/). Officials note that this year mortality is three percent higher than Moscow had projected a year ago (nakanune.ru/news/2017/12/06/22491702/). But most people are horrified by the impact on public health from Putin’s “optimization” campaign especially in rural areas (newsland.com/community/politic/content/iurii-krupnov-lishnee-naselenie-v-moskve-v-selakh-ego-kriticheskii-defitsit/6106190 and newsland.com/community/8137/content/putin-na-rossii-postavil-krest/6109780). __ WOE2
Many standard medicines and vaccines are no longer available inside Russia to any but oligarchs and government insiders.
Bad News About People Leaving
Russia’s elites are packing up and leaving the country, as many as 300,000 a year or more.
Bad News About the Russian Navy:
The Russian navy is on its way to losing its status a blue water force capable of projecting power around the world and becoming a coast guard one able to defend only “the nearby water zone” if defense ministry plans are carried out, according to Russian shipbuilder Aleksandr Shishkin.
In today’s Vzglyad, he points to the words of Yury Borisov, deputy defense minister, last week about Moscow’s plans for the next decade, plans that call for coastal defense ships and numerous strategic submarines but no major projects for the construction of major surface vessels (vz.ru/society/2017/12/4/897894.html). __ Window on Eurasia2
Bad News About Russia’s Nuclear Deterrent
The sanctions the Ukrainian government has imposed on Russia, sanctions that primarily hit the defense arrangements the two countries had had before Russia’s invasion, have reduced Russia’s nuclear capacity by as much as 20 percent, a new study suggests (cont.ws/@ottuda/786702). Moscow is also running out of money for many military projects: It announced and then ended because of lack of cash a program to develop nuclear-tipped rockets mounted on trains (rg.ru/2017/12/02/razrabotka-boevyh-zheleznodorozhnyh-kompleksov-novogo-pokoleniia-prekrashchena.html and meduza.io/news/2017/12/06/rossiya-ostanovila-razrabotku-yadernogo-poezda-iz-za-nehvatki-sredstv). The Russian military still suffers from enormous corruption, something likely to be made worse by the defense minister’s request of Putin to be allowed to let one trillion rubles (40 billion US dollars) in contracts without any competitive bidding (graniru.org/War/Mil_spending/m.266049.html). Another new study suggests that productivity in the Russian military-industrial complex has now fallen ten to fifteen percent from what it was in Soviet times (business-gazeta.ru/article/366178). __ WOE2 Baker’s Dozen
As a result of corruption, ongoing economic problems, relatively low oil prices, and an ongoing slow-motion demographic collapse, Russia’s abilities to maintain its territorial integrity and its Way of Warfare are under threat. In Syria, Crimea, east Ukraine, and elsewhere within Russia’s desired sphere of influence, Russia is bleeding men and money with nothing more than “international bragging rights” in return. And those bragging rights are of increasingly questionable value.
By almost any metric, Putin’s Russia is a state in decline. In order to recover and reverse the decline, Putin would need to take dozens of actions which he will never do — actions to reverse many of his previous unwise actions. Even if Putin wanted to do so, he is constrained by the power structure that has evolved within Russia since the USSR collapsed. And he simply does not have enough time.